Let’s Talk about This Con Game Thing Part 3: The Challenges of Running Public Games

Part 1, Part 2
ChangelingIn my last article I discussed the difficulties of planning a con game that tackles difficult subject matter in a responsible way while creating a welcoming environment where everyone is comfortable voicing any concerns or boundaries they have related to the game.  Ironically, of the two games I ran at Valor Con, it was not the Wraith game where I ran into these dynamics.  It was during the Changeling game, which acted as a prequel to the Wraith session, I ended up running into a player’s boundaries, much to my surprise.

My Changeling game was set in 1925 Chicago during the opening of the Uptown Theatre cinema palace.  This is a significant moment in Chicago history during the escalation of tension between Al Capone’s gang, The Chicago Outfit and the Northside Gang, which was Capone’s primary opposition at the time.  Chicago was embroiled in an all out gang war after arranging the assassination of the Northside Gang’s leader a year prior.  There was nowhere entirely safe from the violence spilling into the streets.  However, despite the violence, Uptown was relatively peaceful.  At the time, Uptown was the primary entertainment district of Chicago.  It was home to the Arcadia Ballroom and skating rink, the Green Mill jazz club, which was larger in 1925 than it is today, and the Riviera theatre.  As magnificent as the district was, its peak was still years off.  The Uptown Theater, the largest cinema palace in the country was opening on Broadway and the expansive Aragon ballroom was already under construction across the street from the Lawrence el stop.

Original Ad from the Uptown Theatre's Opening Night

Original Ad from the Uptown Theatre’s Opening Night

One of the many reasons all of these entertainment venues were able to flourish is both gangs loved the nightlife and they knew if their war spilled into Uptown and the adjacent neighborhood of Edgewater, where visiting performers were housed, then their night life would fall apart.  If you can’t enjoy the spoils of your illegal empire then what’s the point after all?  The opening scene of my game has the players in the Green Mill, and as it’s a one shot I broke one of my personal ST rules and went for a simple quest giving dynamic.  The local “ruler” among the Fae, a mostly kindly, but terrifyingly powerful Boggan told the characters about a plot to destroy the Uptown theatre on it’s opening night.  He suspected the RedCaps in the Northside gang were involved, but he couldn’t prove it and he had to stay in the Green Mill to keep the peace.

This was the setup I had scripted in advance, and I really didn’t think there would be any particularly problematic aspects of this story.  I generally follow my players lead in terms of tone and boundaries and didn’t think I’d run into any problems as long as I stuck to that approach.  The first question of the night was posed by the one female player at the table, who chose the Pooka I based off of Josephine Baker.  She wanted to know if there were any RedCaps in the Green Mill, when I confirmed that there were, she decided to to team up with the female Sidhe in the group and attempt a seduction roll to try and get some information out of them.

This point in the flow of the game demonstrated to me that “following my player’s lead” doesn’t work nearly as well when I don’t know my players.  I decided to take the opportunity to perform a little bit and put on my best best gangster flirting with a girl in a club.  These were unseelie RedCaps, so I went for hardline trope as opposed to subtle.  The NPC wanted to get the two PCs to go over to the Arcadia Ballroom (my attempt at giving them a hook into the next scene) and do some dancing.  Josephine (I’ll use her character name from here on out for convenience and anonymity) immediately cringed at my performance.  I gave the exchange a line or two more before it was definitely clear that she didn’t know what to say and was uncomfortable acting out this dynamic.  So I immediately dropped character and affirmed that they were supposed to be pretty disgusting unseelie RedCaps, and not a representative of anything desirable.  Josephine seemed happier when I dropped the hard rp approach and she said she didn’t want to go dance with them, but really just wanted to get info from them.  So I said “That’s cool, I’m not going to make you LARP through this.  You can throw a Charisma+Expression roll to try and get the information you need out of them.

Archival Shot of Josephine Baker

What is a Pooka to do when the ST goes off course?

Once I changed my approach the rest of the session went very well, but in the back of my head I realized I had made a huge assumption thinking the Changeling game wouldn’t have the same sorts of dynamics my Wraith game had, especially given the genre it was set in.  At the end of the session Josephine thanked me for running and seemed to have legitimately enjoyed the experience.  She had a couple stellar character moments (one right after the exchanged described above), but unfortunately she had another session that started right as ours was ending. I wanted to chat with her and ask her about that moment and see if she would have liked me to handle it differently but I was not able to have that exchange due to her tight schedule.  For future con games I will likely hand out a link to a Google Form so players can give me feedback even if there isn’t time after a session, or they aren’t comfortable being critical in person.

When you run a game for yourself and your friends you have a good sense of what your boundaries will be, and it’s easy when running a public game to use that experience as a map for what territory you should approach delicately.  The truth of the matter is public games are much more fraught, especially with a setting like the World of Darkness that emphasizes a decayed world filled with all manner of horrors.  Had I been in a session with someone who wasn’t as expressive, or who had learned to hide their feelings on topics like this one I may not have noticed that I needed to change my storytelling approach and left one or more of my players feeling unsafe or unwelcome at my table.  An incident like that could also easily have run afoul of the ValorCon standards of behavior, which I am very happy to say are quite comprehensive.

Looking back at my experiences running both games I am glad things got close to running off the rails without actually running off the rails in my Changeling game because it served as a solid lesson on the dynamics of public play.  I am spending the next few months cleaning up the mini modules I created so I can use them at future cons and I will be including a disclaimer on my Changeling module that is similar, if slightly different in scope to the one in the Wraith writeup.  Despite seeing reminders in countless White Wolf books about negotiating boundaries before playing one of their games it is a very easy step to forget, but an important one not to.

The Tabletop Floor at ValorCon

The Tabletop Floor at ValorCon

Planning and running a game in a public space with unknown players is every bit as dynamic and invigorating as I describe in the first installment of this con game series.  As with all public narrative it is also a more delicate dynamic than telling stories around your table at home, and should be approached more carefully.  I highly recommend finding a way to run a few public games if you generally wear the storytelling hat.  Just remember to set a stage for your players where they feel like you took the time to learn about their boundaries, and feel comfortable letting you know if those boundaries are being pushed.  As Game Runners we aren’t just playing these games.  We are introducing new people to our favorite worlds, and we want that experience to draw them back again in the future.

Victor Kinzer has been roleplaying since he first picked up Vampire Dark Ages in high school.  He nabbed it as soon as it was released (he might have been lusting after other Vampire books for a while at that point) and hasn’t looked back since.  He role plays his way through the vast and treacherous waters of north Chicago, and is hacking away at the next great cyberpunk saga at http://redcircuitry.blogspot.com/.  He is an occasional guest on Tempus Tenebrarum (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvNp2le5EGWW5jY0lQ9G39Q/feed), and is working to get in on the con game master circuit.  During the rest of his life he works in Research Compliance IT, which might inform more of his World of Darkness storylines than he readily admits.

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of the Editor or any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands.

SUPPORTING INCLUSIVITY IN GAMING

werewolf-coverLast Thursday I received my advance PDF of Mind’s Eye Theatre Werewolf: The Apocalypse, this post was informed by some preliminary reading of that book which made me happy with some of what the writers addressed. The rest of this post will not exclusively be about By Night Studios, but I want to call them out for moving things in the right direction and striving to be one of the more inclusive gaming companies on the market. I think this comes from the form of gaming in question. In some ways, LARP is an atmosphere where inclusivity, and safety, are much more present. You have larger groups, and often groups engaged in physical storytelling.

I got asked the other day what inclusivity in gaming means to me.

Inclusivity means having a game world that reflects reality in its diversity. Inclusivity means an openness to thought, to writing, to characters that walk a spectrum of identities. Inclusivity means a game culture that welcomes players and encourages them to engage in world building in a self-reflective way, but also in a way that acknowledges a plurality of vision about the purpose of gaming. Inclusivity means trying to find a way to engage, support, and empower any player that walks through the door, if their goal is to support the collaborative process.

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Borrowed from Dreadful Games

Storytelling and gaming are essential elements of our being. When I engage in stories that challenge my perceptions, that encourage me to think, to expand, to reflect, that is what I search for. I want everyone to have that chance, to be included if they want to be included. I want anyone that picks up a book I write, or a plays a game I play, to feel like they could make that their core pastime. Collaboration requires maneuvering with, and for people. Inclusivity embraces that challenge with the goal of trying to open the door so that all people, voices, and thoughts are heard, considered, and added to the collective memory, the shared myth.

Inclusivity in gaming is a process that can start from the ground up, or, from the top down. What, in this case, do I mean by top down? I’m talking about from the game company themselves. From choosing writers, to tapping artists, all the way up to developers, a desire for and a strong commitment to inclusivity impacts their games in ways that ripple throughout their fan communities. That isn’t to say the job of inclusivity is only on the developer side, but they have a role to play. (hah, no pun was intended but I’m going to keep it now I’ve noticed it)

Actions both subtle and obvious help to encourage an atmosphere of inclusion in a game. Let’s run through a few of them.

PRONOUN USAGE: White Wolf was one of the first companies to use the female pronoun in their books. This is one of those subtle decisions that can have a huge impact. Having she sets the tone that women, just as much as men, can be the standard gender for roles in the World of Darkness. That was 1991, and a pretty big deal in that day and age. Today using she is less trendsetting, and is still powerful. At the same time, using gender neutral and gender ambiguous pronouns can indicate an attitude of acceptance of all gender identities, both for players and for characters. If reading through a book and a signature character is a 3-dimensional figure who happens to be gender queer as part of their identity, it represents some of the diversity within our world.

SAFETY AND CONSENT RULES/STANDARDS: Consent is an important part of the social contract of gaming. Players consent to sit around your table, or embody characters in LARP, and they need to continually be provided the option to opt-in or out of story elements that could hurt them as players. By Night Studios is doing well in this department, in the MET Vampire book this concept is treated with respect and given decent coverage. In Werewolf? They’ve done even better, pages 19-20 cover several concepts that are essential to supporting player safety and encouraging behavior that ensures it. They discuss Bleed, Personal Responsibility, Sportsmanship, and techniques of storytelling that support player comfort like Fade to Black and Time Stops. For those of us who have been around the LARP world for a while we’ve seen a lot of discussion on these things, and it is essential to have them front in center in a game book.

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Kadira by Bryan Sime: From Ki Khanga

REPRESENTATIVE IMAGES: Recently Wizards of the Coast received some soft praise for having one of their signature characters be a black woman. This is good, and needs to continue. What is also praise worthy is that the character is wearing, basically, sensible armor. There is also the awesome new game, Ki Khanga which is set in a fantasy world based on Africa. Games like this, and games that incorporate honest representation are part of the process to make games more inclusive. Representation matters, just as with gender, characters with similar looks and ethnic identities to players help to give them role models. They also give players with different identities a chance to see awesome characters that do not look like them, which I believe has an impact on how people are seen in one’s day to day life as well.

SUPPORT FOR PLAYERS WITH DISABILITIES: This I feel, is at times the area that we have the most opportunity for growth and development of new strategies for support. One of the concerns I’ve had with the newer White Wolf books is their size. These books are 500, 600, 700 pages long in one volume. I struggle to hold him in my hands and this is due to a very moderate problem with grip, probably caused from my military service. Thankfully I have pdfs and other electronic versions of these books I can read as well, but it would be amazing to have some other technology to support our gamers with other disability concerns. Some of this is built into our new devices, but that only goes so far. I’d like to hear some feedback on what sort of devices, support, or ideas could help in this area.

Here is my take-away. We are doing better as a community, partly due to the benefit of Kickstarter and other forms of crowd-funding that allow for smaller projects to get off the ground. We can do better, though. That should not be taken as a critique, just a fact, we can always do better, we can always work to be compassionate and supportive and inclusive and we should always strive to be so. What games do you think are the most inclusive? How do you ensure a sense of inclusivity in the games you create or the games you play?

Josh is the Admin@KeepontheHeathlands

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of  any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands.

LET’S TALK ABOUT THIS CON GAME THING PART 2 THE CHALLENGES OF PLANNING PUBLIC GAMES

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Part 3, Part 1
In my last article on con games I talked about my experiences playing at Gen Con, and designing two con game modules with a focus on making them approachable to new players at Valor Con.  I’ve talked a lot about the fun, exciting aspects of the con game format, but con games also come with some very unique challenges that I think are worth exploring.  The con game format turns the subject of the Social Contract between gamers that is being explored in depth in Scott E. Vigil’s series on the subject on its ear, and much of that is connected to these specific challenges.

Scott talks in his last article about finding a space that’s acceptable to everyone, and choosing a game that everyone wants to play.  At a con game all of those questions are swept away.  The con tells you where you will be playing, likely including a specific table assignment.  Whoever submitted the session pitch to the con decides what game will be played.  This person may or may not be the storyteller.  So in many ways the social contract for these games is templated and packaged for you when you take part in a con game.  One of the topics Scott mentions in his first Social Contract of Gaming article was very much in play at my Valor Con games though, “Are there any topics or themes that are to be off limits in the role-playing setting?”.

There is a lot of talk in all corners of the internet about representation in media, both the need for more representation, and the damage that can be done by poor representation of groups that have a history of being stigmatized by negative stereotypes and systematic oppression.  The tension between representation and quality representation weighed much more heavily on me than it normally does when I’m planning a game.  The potential for sloppy representation to cause damage either through someone feeling unwelcome at my table, or by reinforcing a negative stereotype, albeit unintentionally with a completely random group of players is significantly higher than with the troupe I usually play with.  I know my friends well and have an understanding of how they will engage with my content.  At Valor Con, I was walking into a situation where I would be running Wraith: The Oblivion, which is one of the darkest games I have ever played, with a completely unknown group of players.  As I developed my modules, the complexity of these dynamics became abundantly clear to me.

Zero to None by Lydia Burris

Zero to None by Lydia Burris

For readers who are not familiar with Wraith, you play ghosts who are still tethered to Earth by some form of unfinished business, which is a classic theme in ghost stories from several different cultures.  The society of the dead though, is something entirely unique to Wraith, and poses a series of significant problems for the type of game I wanted to run.  Wraith society is based on an economy of souls.  There is a vibrant slave trade, and the vast majority of “physical” items in the underworld are made of smelted down souls.  While it appears at first glance that this is cheap shock horror, there are very compelling reasons for this atrocity, and the game is deeply founded in inspecting the human potential for atrocity in high definition, and really grappling with it.

I am the only person in my immediate gaming circle who has ever run Wraith for more than a few sessions, so I know the lore fairly well, and I love it dearly because I love stories that shine a stark unflinching light on the darkness inherent in the human soul and don’t give into the aggrandizement of “humanity”.

I wanted to set the game in my neighborhood of Uptown, Chicago because Valor Con has a very strong local Chicago brand and I wanted to incorporate that brand into my games.  Chicago is one of the most segregated cities in America, except for Uptown.  In a city where almost everyone lives around other people who look more or less like they do, Uptown stands out as a diverse neighborhood with representations from a variety of nationalities, sexualities, and economic classes  This is a big part of why I love living in Uptown as much as I do and I really wanted to highlight my neighborhood.  I wanted to tell a story about Wraiths from the different generations, and communities that have built Uptown into the neighborhood it is, and who have connections to major changes in Uptown’s history.  There is a large African immigrant community in Uptown and I was halfway through making the character I wanted to represent the local African Diaspora community when I stopped typing and thought about the core themes of Wraith and how they could very problematically interact with an African character.  This was the weekend before the convention and there was no way I had the time to redesign everything before the Con.

uptown-theater

The inside of the Uptown Theatre reminds us what the shadowlands must be like.

My game focused very specifically on soulforging and the commodification of souls that is common in the underworld.  I wasn’t playing with the themes in Wraith that half justify those actions because no one is entirely good or evil in the Underworld.  I was approaching soulforging and the Thrall slave trade as intrinsic evils, but I was still incredibly concerned about the story I was about to tell.  I decided that I didn’t want to back away from the core themes of Wraith or accurate representation of Uptown because I was walking into difficulty territory.  It was time to hold myself accountable to telling this story, even in a public venue like a game con properly.  So the first thing I did was put a content warning at the top of the setting writeup that read:

wraithoblivion2ndlogoThis is a game that deals with incredibly dark societal themes.  It is fundamentally a game about the atrocity that lives deep in the human soul and can never be truly excised, it can at best be vigilantly managed.  These themes include slavery, murder, xenophobia, and a literal commodification of the human spirit.  I tried very hard to balance representing the myriad communities of Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, where this session will be set, against those themes in an honest and respectful way, while leaning into the full atrocious horror that defines Wraith.  I am open to critical feedback of areas where that goal might not be fully realized in these writeups, or in how the session ends up playing out.  Please know that if you read the rest of this setting and the character writeups and would rather not engage in this session that is fine.  If you want to engage, but would rather I downplay certain themes I am also 100% fine with that conversation as I feel it is essential to any positive Wraith experience.

I know some people are not fans of content warnings, and I don’t want to open that whole conversation here, but in a con game setting where people want to have fun, and by the nature of the format may not know anything about the games they are sitting down to play, I feel this kind of notice about the primary themes being tackled is appropriate.  This also made it clear to my players that I welcomed them bringing up concerns as the game session went on.  When we sat down to play the game I explained the specific thematic juxtaposition I was concerned about.

I also went through my session plan before the con and made sure I wasn’t aligning the themes related to the commodification of human soul with my PC’s identity as a Black woman.  While there were abductions, and soulforging of clearly unwilling victims in the game, they did not reflect any particular racial makeup, and as I opened my game session with a frank conversation about the themes I would be exploring, I felt I had prepared the most inviting space I could for this kind of horror session.  I was entirely prepared to improv changes to the setting if anyone felt uncomfortable.  As it turns out, no one did.  We had a dynamic session, where the diverse relationships the characters had with the story and the setting came into play surprisingly well for a one shot game.  It is worth nothing, the players ended up being all white men, but they were all very positive about the fact that I opened the game the way I did, and I received good feedback on how I structured the session.

Ironically, despite the content being seemingly less fraught than the Wraith game, I ran into more tricky game dynamics in my Changeling session than I did in my Wraith session.  My Wraith game ended up being an excellent example of how to plan navigating difficult content in advance.  In my next article I will talk about my Changeling session and how I went about navigating unexpected player discomfort mid-session, and what I will be doing differently in future con games based on that experience.

Victor Kinzer has been roleplaying since he first picked up Vampire Dark Ages in high school.  He nabbed it as soon as it was released (he might have been lusting after other Vampire books for a while at that point) and hasn’t looked back since.  He role plays his way through the vast and treacherous waters of north Chicago, and is hacking away at the next great cyberpunk saga at http://redcircuitry.blogspot.com/.  He is an occasional guest on Tempus Tenebrarum (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvNp2le5EGWW5jY0lQ9G39Q/feed), and is working to get in on the con game master circuit.  During the rest of his life he works in Research Compliance IT, which might inform more of his World of Darkness storylines than he readily admits.

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of the Editor or any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands.

HOW THE DARKNESS CAN LEAD US TO THE LIGHT

Preface to this article. I started this in the hours after I left The Grand Masquerade, and finished working on it after reading extensive responses in the community discussing our interview with White Wolf and the Keynote and Q&A at The Grand Masquerade.

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What is the value of darkness? Darkness teaches us to value the light.

 What is the value of difficult literature? It teaches us things about ourselves, as human beings.

What is the value of media that addresses dark themes? It can teach us about a side of life we do not witness. It can teach us about lives unlike our own at every level.

These questions and answers are at the core of what the World of Darkness can teach us, if we let it. I want to preface this article with this, we need to be sensitive to everyone involved in discussions surrounding themes in WoD games. Player comfort and safety, and consent to address dark, mature themes are essential. That being said, I might pose more questions than answers here and I want to help encourage a healthy dialogue.

I would hesitantly say the goal of role-playing in the World of Darkness is to generate an understanding of the dark things that occur in our world, and to find ways to address that darkness and ways to change our world. Vampire is essentially a game of immortal parasites that dominate and leech off humanity. By playing one of these monsters we can see the dark aspects of our society reflected back to us. If I play a woman in these games, if those games are run by a sensitive storyteller, I can hopefully begin to understand some of the layers of systemic sexism inherent in the real world. I will never be an expert on that experience, and such a thing should not be played for *shock* factor, but it can have deeper impacts. These games may be one stage in understanding, perhaps a strong first step into embracing feminism and striving to make the world a more gender equal place. By addressing gender inequality, in a place that is safe (with fellow gamers that I trust to respect my consent) I can find tools to identify actions or thoughts I take that tacitly support the sexist world we live in.

self-reflection

Some players don’t want to play games that address societal faults. They enjoy other aspects of Vampire’s mythology, they like the clan politics, or monster’s hiding in the darkness of society. Whatever it is about Vampire, they like the game, they enjoy spending time in the World of Darkness. This style of play is totally understandable. Not everyone looks to games as literature. Like enjoyable fiction, sometimes you read something because the story is fun, it makes you smile, perhaps it makes you excited. The World of Darkness can be played in both ways.

white_wolf_publishingWhite Wolf’s new leadership says they want to create books that address the first style, they want to write books that address the darkness in the World of Darkness. They also want to support players that choose either style of play. Are these goals incompatible? I, for one, don’t think so. White Wolf wants to create books that can be used to run games that are fun, or self-reflective, or both. They want to engage writers that are looking to explore elements of the world that they know intimately. By doing so, they can hopefully create a true reflection of the power of their experiences. At the same time, for those gamers who wish to play for fun, they will have materials that are truer to life, alive with those experiences and that will reflect in the games played. By providing the best material, all of us gain.

I personally think we, as people, have to challenge ourselves if we wish to grow. We can use a lot of various media to work this growth. We can read works by great authors, we can watch great movies, and we can play great games. Great games allow us to learn skills we can apply to our world. There is academic evidence to suggest that gamers either have more or gain empathy skills from gaming. At the same time, I believe gaming can be used as an effective method to perform inter-cultural dialogue. Gaming, in my humble opinion, can be a force of individual and cultural benefit. Sometimes the method to that growth is through the darkness of the world. Yet, darkness is not the only element of the World of Darkness.

Iconoclasm, Punk, and Anarchist mentality are also themes in Vampire the Masquerade. Why? Because they are methods of challenging the status-quo. In the World of Darkness, we see a world run by the patriarchy (in this case immortal or with powerful magic), entrenched in systemic racism, mired in conflict on every side, we have a world beset by severe income inequality, and a devastated ecology. At the same time, many Vampires have tossed mortal concerns around gender roles, Avatars choose Mages regardless of social status, Werewolves exist of every race. These characters have the ability to challenge the systemic problems of the world.the_players_guide_to_the_sabbat

These themes, though changed to some degree, have not left our world since 1991, when Vampire first addressed them. I would argue, as others have, that White Wolf games were essentially subversive at heart. They sought to dismantle the constructs of the world we live in, by making some of the worst aspects of our world stark. I wouldn’t say these elements were eliminated in later editions, but they were tempered, they were certainly more nuanced. Understanding the underlying reality of those themes is important in our modern world, we need to understand how to challenge the status-quo, how to stand up against oppression, and how to advocate for positive change. The World of Darkness can help teach us effective methods of doing so.

At the same time as investigating darkness to understand light, we need to be cognizant of individual player buy-in and acceptance of the topics being addressed. How do we work with darkness, even playing elements of the darkness with respect to real player backgrounds? Consent. Consent is integral to running White Wolf games. If your players want to play a game that only peripherally touches on the darkest themes in the World of Darkness, LISTEN to them. If a woman at your table says stop, stop. If a man in your LARP asks not to run a scene with rape involved, listen to them, fade-to-black, ask for feedback and adjust where appropriate. If you have a player that wants to explore their gender identity, find ways to do so with respect and with their investment.

One way to do this well is to ask for feedback ahead of time before you run plots. For example, I recently asked my players if they wanted to move our Dark Ages game a few years in time in between sessions. I did this to get a feel for what they wanted. They didn’t want a time jump, they still have things they want their characters to learn and do. This helped me to develop the next 5-10 game sessions (give or take). This wasn’t an issue of dealing with dark elements, but it is a good example of how to work with your players to give them an experience you enjoy facilitating and that reflects their gaming interests.

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I will do this with other aspects of the game, as well. If I wanted to run a plot where the characters have to kill an entire family (a possibility in the Medieval era), or a plot where children were killed, I would check with the players to ensure that such a plot would not be a surprise and would not cause any trauma related triggers. I ended up running a side scene with one player where I had initially planned to have his ghoul betray him. Both characters are young, both around 12, one a vampire and the other his childhood friend who he had ghouled. The ghoul felt his friend was putting himself in danger, and though he was betraying him, it was for his best friend’s safety. However, the emotional intensity of the scene between player character and NPC changed my mind. There was too much power in keeping their bond strong, in ensuring that no betrayal occurred. I knew some of the needs of this player, and I know a bit of his personal history and I’m glad we chose the route we did. This scene created a powerful resonance for my player, who thanked me for the scene later. There were still very dark elements of this scene, horror, danger for friends loved and loved deeply, but it didn’t cross over into a territory that would have hurt my friend.

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During Grand Masquerade, fans made it clear that they want more representation in White Wolf game products. They want sensitivity in dealing with dark storylines and themes, and they want players to feel welcome playing games in the World of Darkness. Particularly in LARP, because of concerns for player safety in the LARP community. From my perspective, White Wolf is listening, but I think we are in a sensitive era in the gaming hobby, and this has caused some strong emotion to boil to the surface. This emotion is not a negative thing. This emotion is a call for us all to take these concerns seriously and ensure that darkness is not simply inserted for some misunderstood shock attempt.

wod-gypsiesIn our recent interview with White Wolf, Martin Ericsson, Lead Storyteller of the new White Wolf, stated his interest in re-investigating one of the most controversial of books ever produced by White Wolf, World of Darkness: Gypsies. However, Martin’s comments about wanting writers to write about topics they know should illuminate some of his deeper thinking. He mentions perhaps calling the new book, Opre Roma. This is an alternative name for the Romani anthem Gelem, Gelem and has been used as a rallying call by Roma movements for equality and representation in Europe. Some have expressed concern about rewriting a book that has a lot of negative implications and has been fairly accused of othering a people that have experienced severe and consistent discrimination.
That being said, if White Wolf can investigate the history of the Roma in Europe, using the lens of the World of Darkness to show their common humanity and to help understand how they have been persecuted over the years, isn’t this something that could be beneficial? I think we can see that there is value about writing what one knows, and if White Wolf can engage a writer or writers of Roma descent who are interested in producing a book that encourages understanding of the Roma, I’m all for giving it a try.

The World of Darkness has had 25 years to make an impact on role-playing. I think it has done so. I won’t say that White Wolf is the only reason that we now have deeper themes in gaming, but their emergence into the world of gaming 25 years ago helped to create the gaming landscape we have today. White Wolf is waking up from torpor, there are a lot of great ideas hiding in the darkness still and we have much to learn before we can step into a world that is more light than dark. For now, let’s strive together to learn about ourselves, our world, and each other by looking at the darkest element of our lives. Let us examine the darkness and find it within ourselves, and root it out.

Josh is the Admin@KeepontheHeathlands

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of  any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands.

SOCIAL CONTRACT PART 3: WHAT GAME WILL THE GROUP RUN?

Welcome back! Last weeks article! This week we finally cover the all-important question of what game the group will sit down and play. For me this mainly comes down to knowing the amount of player “buy-in” that each person is willing to give for the game. This buy-in will vary between each game. Some games require more than others. Each game has the same basic types of buy-in:

games

So many games so little time

  • What game are we going to run?
  • Cost of the game.
  • Prep time for both GM and Player
  • Amount of shared (or not shared) duties when playing the game

Let’s break down each of these four points and see what each means in terms of buy-in.

As always I will give examples in italics with regards to my home groups.

What game are we going to play?

 

Let’s get to the meat and potatoes of this week’s topic on the Social Contract. What game will we play? This will depend on group preference. With so many genres and different styles to choose from it’s easy to get lost in the sheer vastness of games currently available. In fact, let me break it down like this. Let’s look at three generic genres and I will give a list under each for five types of games. The three genres we will use will be very generic but the games under each will vary, while still falling under the parent genre.

Fantasy

  • D&D (Pick your edition)
  • Houses of the Bloodedchoices
  • Burning Wheel
  • Within the Ring of Fire
  • Homecoming

Sci-Fi

  • Shadowrun
  • Era: The Consortium
  • Coriolis
  • Paranoia
  • Eclipse Phase

Horror

  • Wraith: The Oblivion
  • Kult
  • Sins of the Father
  • Call of Cthulhu
  • Night’s Black Agents

Now I would expect most people (gamers) have heard of some, if not most of these games. However, this shows the multitude of options for games to choose from. D&D is an obvious choice and I could whip up a 5th edition character in about 10 minutes and a 2nd edition character in maybe half an hour or so (it’s been awhile since I messed with 2nd edition). So that doesn’t take much investment on my part to make a character. From a GM standpoint it isn’t a big thing to pull together a game either. Give me about 10 minutes and I can do a one shot session for D&D no problem. In fact, if I don’t want to do that, I can go onto Wizards of the Coasts’ site and get one directly from them for not much money.

Now on the opposite end, I would put Burning Wheel. Burning Wheel has one of the most interesting dice mechanic and character creation processes I have personally seen, and I am a big fan. For a lot of people, it can take a bit of time to wrap their head around how the system works. A character in Burning Wheel still takes me about 2 or 3 hours if I make them all in one go. More often than not, I will sweat over details and nitpick different aspects of what I can possibly do. From a GM standpoint, most of the time for a Burning Wheel game I can only sketch out a rough plot before my players have their characters made, or burned, in Burning Wheel parlance.

Also, an important topic is type of game. This not only covers what people find enjoyable, but also covers what people might be uncomfortable with. This is a delicate subject and one that may need to be discussed in private, however, these discussions must occur.

A couple of years ago I ran a Wraith: The Oblivion game at Gen Con. The game had a caution on that the game would contain mature subject matter, as it was taking place during the days leading up to the liberation of prisoners at Auschwitz. The players were recently deceased who had to keep their remaining family members safe until the liberation. That is very heavy in terms of theme and subject matter. It’s not for everyone. So please, make sure to discuss the type of game you want to play with your group.

paranoia

One of the pricier gems of my collection

Cost of the Game

When it comes to game cost in regards to buy-in, the real question at hand is how much will each person have to spend to play the game. Let’s be honest here and now though, in reality only one person NEEDS to buy the books. However, it will often better suit the group to have multiple copies of the book for rules reference.

In fact, Victor had a wonderful write up on just this sort of topic a while ago in regards to the cost of the recent Invisible Sun Kickstarter. http://keepontheheathlands.com/2016/09/13/invisible-sun-a-study-in-the-tension-between-accessibility-in-price-and-design/
In this he excellently breaks down the cost for modern gaming. I highly encourage you to read it. I’ll wait.

Please take your time….

Please take your time….

 

Okay now that you have read that, let’s continue. Most books will run about 60.00 US dollars. Add into this dice… which… you can never have too many dice.

Dice normally will run about 10-12 dollars for a standard set. Copies of character sheets and pencils are honestly very small cost and negligible. So at the very minimum, if each person buys a main book and only one set of dice, they are looking at about 75 dollars’ investment. Add in pencils and paper for copies and let’s round-up to 80 dollars.

Overall this is not much more than a video game these days. So I don’t see the need to balk at this. However, there is more to this really than just a main book and some dice. At least with regards to the buy-in aspect of a game.

Prep time for both GM and players

work

This is a lot like work!

The time from when a game is chosen and when it starts really is the time for the GM to get their story down on paper and make notes. This honestly can only be done to a certain degree. Most games recommend (and in the case of some, require) that you do a character creation session with all the players and the GM as a group. So, prior to this it is a good idea for all involved to read up on any pertinent details. The game world (if one exists), overall game rules and especially character creation rules.

Reading up on this is no different than studying for a class. You are learning how the game is run and how the system works. Now I can hear a lot of you saying that “can’t I just have this taught to me during character creation?”

Yes…you can and if your GM offers pre-made characters this may be an option to try a game out. However, when making characters for a game it is a good idea to know the rules at least as they pertain to your character.

A great example I like to give of knowing the rules as they pertain to your character is from Shadowrun. Shadowrun is a very crunchy simulationist system at its heart. As such, the different types of characters you can play use different rule sets. When running this game, I let my players know that they are responsible for knowing their character and the rules governing them. This helps speed up combat especially, and keeps the game moving overall.

So, take the time to read and learn the game. Do your homework, so to speak. Invest the time to know and understand the game system, the world, and special rules. I promise you will be happier for it in the long run. One thing I like to do is read up on character creation and mark down any questions I have for the GM during the character creation session. Simple things like this can go a long way to making the game more fun for you, the other players, and the GM.

For the GM prepping requires even more work. They have to know the system, and have to plan out how the characters are involved in this story. PC’s are the main protagonists in a story, so, it is important to have the story revolve around them. This means that the GM can honestly only do so much planning and prepping prior to running a homemade game as opposed to a published scenario.

All of this means that the GM needs to sit down with the players and be an active part of character creation. Doing so allows them to flesh their story out around the players and this is essential.

charcter-creationCharacter Creation

This is a special portion of buy-in. Different games have different levels of character creation. Some are more involved than others. The reason this is something to discuss is not every player wants to spend 4 hours poring over a character they may only play 3 or 4 times. So know what kind of time character creation can leech. Most games ask that the first real session of a game be entirely comprised of character creation. This is a great idea. It allows for the group to discuss what each other wants to play and to build off of that.

Discussion and dialogue is what this process is really about. From what race/roles each player will fill in the game, to defining parts of the game world, this process helps to make the players really feel invested in the world. Questions can be answered as well, both in terms of rules or related to character creation choices that will require GM approval.

Amount of shared (or not shared) duties when playing the gameshared-duties

Finally, when speaking about buy-in aspects of a game, there is the discussion of how many shared or not shared duties exist when playing the game. This can take a couple of forms. The main concern is the amount of time a player will need to engage in a game each session.

Different people role-play for different reasons: to socialize, to escape from the mundane every day, to challenge themselves mentally, among many other reasons. This also can mean that not every player will be engaged during every scene of the game. Especially if their player is not in the scene, or center stage. When this happens, some players may start side conversations, pull out their phones, or use the time to take a bio break, or grab a snack. None of these are bad per se. However, different games require players to be more engaged on different levels.

From a D&D perspective this is easy, as the party usually with one another. Fostering a sense of duty to keep the party together is something that D&D does extremely well. Even when simply looking over the map and figures and trying to figure out the best way to approach the new room of the castle, players are all discussing and talking out plans. This is great.

On the other side of this is Shadowrun. Shadowrun combat can have different players in different places during a scene: from being in a physical fight, to hacking into a security system, or even doing spirit combat in the astral plane. This can take time and can (and in my experience will) will cause players to become disengaged.

Now neither D&D nor Shadowrun award XP for always being engaged. That is not a slight to the games, it’s just a fact. Yes, a GM could (and I think should) award good role-playing. It doesn’t normally happen, though. However, Let’s look at two other games that handle XP in a different way: Burning Wheel and Within the Ring of Fire. Both of these games use votes from the group to determine XP awards.

Burning Wheel asks for different votes based on who did the most work for the session, to who had a skill that was needed at the right time. It even goes farther than that, rewarding players to play up their Beliefs and Instincts. Doing so is an integral part of the game and one the drives the story forward. This also means that players have to be more invested and engaged in the game at all times looking for and making opportunities to play up these aspects of their characters.

Within the Ring of Fire is similar as it also uses a vote system to determine who is awarded XP. Here each person is asked to select one other player (not themselves) and explain how the exemplified their character in that session. Simple. Again this means that players will be having to pay attention to each other even when they are not in the scene.

So, how we have discussed what sort of game we are all comfortable playing and how much we all want to be involved with the game from a session perspective. We can move into our next question: Who will run the game? Normally, this will be determined during this step of the process, as the one who recommends a game usually will be the one who runs it. We will look at the process to decide to run, or not run a game. We will take a deeper look into planning a game and the GM’s role before, during and after a session.

As always, please comment and let me know your thoughts and let’s talk about things you feel I may have missed or that you liked. Until next week, may your dice always roll true.

picard

Make It So

Scott is a true analog gamer doing everything from pen and paper RPG’s to board games and everything in-between. He started out with Advanced D&D 2nd edition at the age of 10. From there he likes all genres and types, from the well known big names to smaller indie print publishers. Scott is Vice-President of The Wrecking Crew

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of the Editor or any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands.

LET’S TALK ABOUT THIS CON GAME THING PART 1 THE ELEVATION OF THE ONE SHOT GAME

the_players_guide_to_the_sabbatPart 2, Part 3
Most gamers with meaningful RPG experience have done one-shot games at some point in their gaming career. You and your friends are hanging out, you want to role-play, but no one has a game prepped. So you either pull out a quick module or someone says, “Eh I can wing it, slap some characters together”. My first one shot was a Sabbat game where we rolled dice to randomly choose a pre gen from the first edition Sabbat Player’s Guide. I ended up pulling the Ventrue Know It All. I have never been quite so frustrated with a stat sheet before, but it did push me to creatively work with the resources at my disposal.

One-shot games tend to be light on narrative, and heavy on ham fisted quest givers because everyone wants to get right to the meat of the session. You only have one night to enjoy the experience after all. That said, one-shot games do vary in composition. If everyone is experienced, maybe they make their own characters very quickly. Maybe you end up using something like the new Ready Made Character books from Onyx Path and already have structured character relationships, something that was never available back in the day. Ultimately, they tend to be fast, loose, epic romps; because, who cares if you die, you weren’t going to play that character again anyway.

That was my experience with one-shot games until this past August when I attended Gen Con for the first time. Gen Con was my first full blown game convention, and I played in two con games that weekend. The first was a Changeling: The Dreaming session, and the second was a Numenera game. In many ways they couldn’t have been more different, but in a few specific respects they were more similar to each other than any other one-shot games I had ever played before.

The first, and most obvious similarity that separated these games from my previous one-shot experiences was the majority of the players did not know the game world. Cons provide a unique opportunity to have someone else teach you a new game system. When you’re somewhere like Gen Con you can get a lesson in just about any game system you want. For the Changeling game I was the only person with direct Changeling: The Dreaming experience, though everyone was familiar with the Storyteller system in one form or another. At the Numenera table I was in the I know nothing about this game camp, and I believe only two of the 5 player troupe had direct Numenera game experience.

gen-con-logo

I believe the other similarities between these games were related to this dynamic. The players at both tables threw themselves into the game in a way I had never experienced before. I am used to the player makeup that tends to come together in a home tabletop environment, the standout domineering player, the rules lawyer, the timid player who doesn’t really know how to influence the narrative, the stat obsessed character stereotype. We’ve all had players at our tables that fall into these all too familiar archetypes. Neither of these con games worked that way, though. In each con game, every player found a space to have really standout moments, and everyone kept up with the breakneck pace of the sessions. I immediately knew I was hooked on this format.

Shortly after GenCon I found out my hometown of Chicago had a brand new game convention called ValorCon, just moving into its second year and they were still accepting Game Runner applications. So I decided to take a stab at running a couple con games. My pitches were accepted after almost being lost to form submission limbo, which I was phenomenally excited about. The two GenCon sessions I attended suffered from opposite extremes in terms of what was good and bad about them, and I wanted to try to capture the best things about both sessions.

Changeling the Dreaming

At the Changeling session we all made our own characters, the only hard copy of the book was brought by a player out of pure luck. The storyteller only had a copy of the game on his phone that he passed around the table. Needless to say this made going through character creation and gaming with players new to Changeling difficult. However, he was a stellar storyteller who thought incredibly well on his feet. We went very off the rails compared to previous groups that he had run the same scenario for but he was always ready with solid scenes and an excellent dramatic dynamic.

Numenera

The Numenera game I attended had an incredibly well prepped GM. He had character templates, and all the powers were on our stat sheets. Our characters had pre-existing relationships with each other which made diving into the session very smooth. The problem was, when we went off the planned course of the module he was completely thrown for a loop. The players in the Numenera group were energetic and dynamic, and we were raucous and disrespectful to his NPCs in a way he was not prepared for. The game didn’t fall apart due to his more structured GM style, but it definitely hurt his ability to keep the pace of the session moving.

bar-and-logo

My ValorCon Sessions

When I sat down to create my modules I wanted to craft something that would let me get the most use out of my 4 hour sessions, and let people focus on really learning the system without books and character creation getting in the way, but I also didn’t want a module so rigid that the players wouldn’t feel like they had agency. So I decided that instead of using a pre made module, like the Numenera game I played in, I’d create the setting and modules myself, with characters that really fit in that setting. I put together character packets that included backstory, the character sheets, and printouts of the powers the characters had access to. However, I did not plan any scenes past the first two of each session. I laid out what was happening in the background for myself, and the player’s’ relationships to the action of the game, but I left the direction of that action to the players.

The resulting game was incredibly accessible. I had at least one player in each game with no prior White Wolf experience, though everyone was an experienced role-player. I gave a crash course introduction to the dice systems, including a house rule I use for initiative and defensive actions. All of the players took to their roles immediately, and even the ones who had never thrown a fistfull of D10s before made dynamic use of all of their powers. Especially in the Wraith game, where the players were juggling mixed motivations due to their shadows, and two sets of powers, I was incredibly impressed at how smooth game play was when I provided each player with exactly what they needed to play.

Having now played and run con games, I can say if you haven’t taken the dive and attended a game con you should make it a priority. They create a unique space for gaming experimentation and provide really dynamic opportunities to experience new game systems. While running my ValorCon games I encountered some very unique challenges related to the public nature of the sessions, and being unfamiliar with my players that I will be detailing in later installments of this series.

Victor Kinzer has been roleplaying since he first picked up Vampire Dark Ages in high school.  He nabbed it as soon as it was released (he might have been lusting after other Vampire books for a while at that point) and hasn’t looked back since.  He role plays his way through the vast and treacherous waters of north Chicago, and is hacking away at the next great cyberpunk saga at http://redcircuitry.blogspot.com/.  He is an occasional guest on Tempus Tenebrarum (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvNp2le5EGWW5jY0lQ9G39Q/feed), and is working to get in on the con game master circuit.  During the rest of his life he works in Research Compliance IT, which might inform more of his World of Darkness storylines than he readily admits.

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of the Editor or any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands.

UPLIFT ME AND I’LL PUSH YOU DOWN

upliftUplift.  

Say it out loud and people will look at you strange if you’re in public, but say it at home and safely private.  Uplift.  The word makes you feel good.  The word is also synonymous with “god like”.  To Uplift in the transhuman use of the term is to impart sapience on a previously non-sapient organism.  Of all transhuman beliefs and paradigms, of all the philosophy and technology, there is no single idea so fraught with dangerous ethical questions and honest to goodness physical danger for the human race.  While there are a number of threats to the longevity of the human race on the transhuman horizon none is so certainly a path to destruction and suffering as the idea of Uplifting one of our fellow tenants on Hotel Earth.  

The human race has 86 billion neurons with roughly 15 hundred trillion synapses.  About 21 billion of those neurons sit in the cerebral cortex.  The cerebral cortex is a two to four millimeter layer of gray goo on your brain.  This goo is deeply tied into attention, language, memory, perception; basically everything we generally think of as “me”.  The Long Finned Pilot Whale has more in the cortex but less overall while the African Elephant has far less in the cortex but more than any other species overall.  That is to say; we have no idea why we’re the smart animals and others are the dumb ones.  In that lack of understanding we and the tenacious sponge, which has zero neurons, are the same.  

The technologies required to transfer consciousness requisite a deep understanding of the aforementioned neurons and synapses, how they interact with each other, and how they interact with the rest of the organ we call a brain are immense.  The ability to grow bodies in any period of time faster than standard aging and to a specific design requisites a deep understanding of DNA, RNA, cell architecture, creating and maintaining a homeostatic organ sack a.k.a. the peritoneum; yes that’s a real thing; borders on miraculous.  The ability to alter DNA on a germ-line level that not only alters the correct RNA sequences but is also stable through generations?  Divine.

dna

I’ve praised Eclipse Phase and Posthuman Studios a number of times but in this particular instance I cannot.  The realities of changing the solar system from a single sapient species star to one with several dozen are glossed over and barely touched upon by Posthuman and it’s a missed opportunity.  Let us consider the children of a fallible creator.

The first generation would likely be in awe; overwhelmed by a new level of stimuli, the distance between themselves and their ancestors shocking. Regardless of the relationship their human creators would seek to create in these new born sentients a subservient relationship; while speeding up neurologically from zero to sixty would be difficult for the new sapient imagine the difficulty most humans would have with interacting with a newly intelligent chimpanzee. The second generation would be excited with opportunity and potential and depending on the treatment by humans remain loyal. Eventually they would seek the right of self-determination and the human race has a spotty history in allowing that between cultural groups, never mind a separate species entirely.

The responsibilities of created to creator run a gamut and if any can be considered we need only look at modern religions and the wildly varying opinions found there for a baseline of the options and the myriad reactions. A creator as a distant caretaker, a wrathful father figure, or barely identifiable initiator of natural cycles. A created of adoring sycophants, raging zealots, and those of differing beliefs subjugated and oppressed. I take it the appropriate images have been conjured to mind?

Eclipse Phase has uplifted Bonobos, Chimpanzees, Crows, Dolphins, Gorillas, Octopi, Orangutans, Orcas, Parrots, Pigs, Ravens, Whales, and Neanderthals. Yes. Neanderthals. Let us forget the ocean dwellers whose neural architectures are dominated by echolocation and spatial perception and would have alien thinking at a minimum and consider pigs. Whom we eat.

pig

“Welcome to sentience my boy”

“I did well poppa?”

“Oh yes.”

“Jim, we’re ordering lunch, what do you want?”

“Grab me a BLT…”

Awkward silence.

 

 neanderthalensis_jg_recon_head_cc_3qtr_lt_sqAnd neanderthals.  Whom are extinct and most of the evidence, re: all the evidence, points at us as the murderer (*editor’s note or did we?), and in Eclipse Phase we hear barely a whisper of such conflict.  While it’s understandable to focus the first few books on the conflict with the TITANs as it’s a central theme and threat on several levels to seemingly ignore the species conflicts in later books is a gross oversight.  The story opportunities built within such an event, such a conflict, can barely be counted.

Do we, as the dominant species, have a right to so fundamentally change another non-sapient species?  The themes of Eclipse Phase paint mankind as young gods; immortal, powerful, able to create life where there wasn’t any before, and able to bring another species into the self-awareness of sentience.  The transhumanity that is painted across the Sol system in Eclipse Phase isn’t “trans”humanity; they are transdivinity.  The Eclipse Phase human race, like the titans of myth were overthrown by their children but in the case of EP those children have apparently settled for dethroning their forebearers and have apparently left humanity to it’s own devices.  In this surprising moment of breath after such struggle humanity has again risen up to stride the Sol system as godlings.  

In spite of all this, the question remains; is there a higher authority than humanity?  Does humanity have the right to bring another race screaming into the universe?  And what will those children feel for their creators?  While there are many who will be grateful there will be many who resent humanity and a racial conflict the likes of which we haven’t seen yet would explode across the system.  The natural state of living organisms is harmony with the environment; conflict with other organisms.  This is the fundamental rule that all organisms live with; including humankind.  How easy is a race war when your enemy is literally not human?  How simple to justify that conflict on both, all three, all four, all five, or more sides?

The gods of myth are universally petty creatures; caricatures of simple ideals or natural forces.  The historical image of humankind is filled with wars over resources, religions, and race.  

Posthuman has missed an opportunity for perhaps some of the most sweeping storytelling to be found in science fiction and I can only hope that after reading this they set their sights on expanding these ideas and showcasing the very best of us and the very worst.  It is through our stories that we reflect on where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going.  We must celebrate our successes and suffer for our sins; only in a crucible can we forge ourselves a better people.

 

what-is-human

What then are we, 

Rough creatures

Elegant grace

What then are we,

Fathers and sons

Mothers and daughters

What then are we,

Refugees of nature

Lords of earth and sky

What then are we?

~Anonymous

 

Justin has been playing, running, and designing games since he was 14.  He enjoys reading, writing, eating, and sleeping.  He also enjoys a good think but not too often as he’s very heat sensitive and doesn’t want his brain to boil over.

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of the Editor or any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands.

Edited per author request on 10/10/2016 at 5:24pm

SOCIAL CONTRACT PART 2: WHERE WILL THE GAME BE PLAYED AND WHO WILL HOST THE GAME?

openerWelcome back to part two of the ongoing discussion on the social contract that exists in starting up a new tabletop RPG game. Last week we discussed the means in how to help determine the length and frequency that a game group will meet. So let’s recap that very briefly and then build off of that for this week’s topic: Where will the game be played and who will host the game?

 

Last week the topic focused on understanding how often and how long a group would meet. These broke down into three separate questions

  • How many days per week/month will the group meet
  • How long is each session going to last
  • How long will the story run for

 

These revolve around the availability of the group and the amount of commitment each member is willing to put in. So, with an understanding and agreement on that; let’s look at the next portion of this contract. I will break this into two sections

  • Where will the game be played
  • Who will host the game

 

As in Part 1 of this series of articles, I will break out examples of how the groups that I game with came to these agreements to create a fun environment for everyone involved.

Where will the game be played?

home-table

Before I get into the details, keep in mind that really this boils down to either a playing in a public game or a private/home game. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each, shall we?

 

Public games

flgs

Many groups have access to a Friendly Local Game Store often abbreviated as FLGS. These locations overall are great. From having a place to get your gaming gear to meeting likeminded gaming fans they help provide for and grow the community. Many even have space set aside for people to play games. Oftentimes for free. However, there are some things to look at when considering running at a local shop. Let look at those shall we.

 

Before looking at the issues that may arise, I want to stress it behooves your group to try and game at your FLGS when/if able. This accomplishes many things. First, you will find others who are into the games you are into. I have lost count of the times I have been running a game and someone comes up and says “I didn’t even know that [insert game title] was still available or even in print.” Second, it provides the FLGS business. Should they charge for the game space extend your group’s social contract to the FLGS by showing your support and patronage, if they don’t seeing bodies in the store is good for both the hobby and for business.

 

Speaking of business; when it comes down to it your FLGS is a business and as such is looking to profit. Support them when possible. Game there, purchase your gaming supplies from books to dice and such directly from them when able. Yes, it can be more expensive; however you are supporting local business and one that is supplying a service you enjoy.

 

This I plan on covering in more detail in a future article, but needless to say I feel very strongly on this topic.

 

So, there are the reasons why it is good to game at your FLGS. What are some of distractions one may encounter?

 

I want it to be noted that a simple lookup on a web site, a call, or even a quick visit during your Lunch Hour to the store can answer most if not all of the following questions.However, I want to point them out as they may not be readily apparent to new groups.

closed

 

First is hours of availability.If your local shop offers space for people to come and game. Especially, if the store hosts other events. On special occasion days open free gaming may not be a possibility. Really this should be a quick determination if any hours offered will work based on the answer to what days of the week or month the group will meet and for how long.

 

As an example there are a few stores in my area that offer different times of availability. The main store we frequent is open Monday through Saturday,  11AM until Midnight. They have a great big open area for gaming. You can see half of the area in the above picture at the start of this section… However, looking over their calendar they have many days that are not open for gaming or may be limited.  Take a look at a recent week’s list of events:

schedule

 

That is pretty packed. Which is good. However, you would want to reach out to the store and make sure open gaming is okay and that space if available. In fact, Wednesday’s from 6PM to 10PM it even says RPG; however, I can tell you that table space is very limited. So make sure to check before just showing up. Depending on store policy, the staff may even hold a table for your group.

take-my-money

Second is cost. Yes cost. Most stores offer free open gaming, but not all do. Please be sure to check.

 

There are two stores in my area that do charge for gaming, each in a different way. One charges a day fee. This fee is overall very reasonable and actually very good for groups who like long marathon sessions that can take a whole day. Your group pays the fee and they will give you your own private room that can be securely locked in case your group wants to take a meal break without having to worry about leaving your gear unattended. Of course if you don’t want to pay for this premium treatment, the store does have free, open space.

 

The second store does charges for any sort of gaming. You can pay a flat daily rate or hourly rate. Each table is semi-private and the staff will watch your things at the counter should you need to leave. Also, this store is open later than any other in my immediate area (until 3AM) which can make it perfect for night owl-style groups. Do note that this store does *NOT* offer any free/open gaming as an alternate option.

noise

NOW FOR THE ISSUE OF NOISE! Woops didn’t mean to yell there. Let’s face it, when you get large of groups of people together things tend to get LOUD! Add in that as other groups get loud that makes every other group raise their volume to be heard as well. This can be a problem for GM’s and players who are sitting next to each other to be heard properly. Both need to hear each other and for the GM especially this can lead to a hoarse voices had by all at the end of a session.
What can be done to fight the noise? Well, looking ahead at the calendar can be the best bet for open gaming area style stores as this will hopefully allow you to schedule around the high traffic days of a store. This may have your group making renegotiations as to how often your FLGS can accommodate your game.

 

Noise is the main reason why my weekly Tuesday group moved from being at our FLGS to one of the player’s homes. It was so loud that it became a distraction and hard for anyone to really concentrate and overall took away the fun of the game.

 

Last thing I want to mention here is the subject matter of the game you will be running. Most FLGS are family friendly and as such most will have rules for what kind of conduct is allowed. This can include language, types of games, food and drink to name just a few. So make sure that the game you are running is not going to break any of those rules. I want to stress here also is that what may offend one person may not offend another. So do your homework and cover your bases.

 

I ran a Demon: The Descent game for about 6 months or so at my FLGS. The game had some mature themes and touched on some adult(ish) subjects. As we were meeting at the store I made sure to convey these subtlety. For my group this worked and we didn’t have any issues with the store in this regard.

On the opposite side of this coin, my Wednesday open gaming table had a few players who while waiting for game to start, had a tendency to make some off-color jokes. When the store brought this issue to my attention I made a announcement to my table about it. It then became a non-issue.

 

Private/Home Games

game-table

Not all groups has an FLGS close to them and, when they do the there is the potential that play space doesn’t sync up with your group’s wishes, or it is just darn noisy. At that point your group will be looking to have a game at someone’s residence. These games are usually referred to as private home games as they are at a private home. This just like a open FLGS game has it’s pros and cons and some other considerations to take into account.

 

The big one here  is who’s house will be hosting the event. Normally the person hosting will have a space that fits everyone and is as close to centrally located for the group. These two things may not always be the case, however.

 

When my Tuesday group decided that the local shop was just too loud for us we decided to move the game to one of the player’s homes. Luckily, the distance was not much overall for any other players. The space was overall more accommodating and the noise was a moot point as we only had to worry about our own volume.

 

Note that the Host and the GM are not always the same person. The GM usually wants to arrive before the players to set up the area and get any notes ready for the session. When the GM and the Host are different people, setting a time with the Host as to when players and GM can arrive prior to game start will need to be established.

 

Expanding on the Tuesday game our Host is not our GM. As such they ask that no one arrive prior to 6:30 pm. This gives them time to unwind from work, eat Dinner and get the area prepared for the game.

 

Content for the most part with home games is a bit more open. I will cover this more in detail in question five Are there any topics or themes that are to be off limits in the roleplaying setting?

For now just understand that home groups can be a bit more overtly out with adult themes and language, assuming that all present are agreeable.

 

Finally, one thing I have found among many home groups is that since the host is well….hosting everyone is asked to bring a snack or drinks. Now I am not saying this is always the case it just tends to be the norm more often than not. This is different for each group but something to consider.

 

My Tuesday game used to rotate who sprung for pizza or would split costs of the pizza and sodas. This assured that food was plentiful and at hand. No need for food runs mid-session or running late due to grabbing Dinner.

 

As an aside one other thing that really separates a open gaming FLGS group from a private home group is ‘randoms’. What I mean by that is people not regulars to the group joining your game… In a FLGS I promise you people will come up and either watch you play or just simply ask what game you are playing. Do your best to accommodate them, as long as it does not break the stride of the session. This is good. It brings more players into the hobby.

 

When it comes to inviting people into one’s Home though, most people tend to like to know and trust those people. So, be aware that should someone want to join the group and they are not known to everyone, especially the host it is good manners to check with the group as a whole.

 

Who will host the game?

hosting

This is really about who will provide the space and area for the game. It really has been covered in a roundabout way above. If you find that you are playing in an FLGS, the Host normally will be the GM. They will want to arrive a bit early to make sure that the gaming area is ready to go and set up any maps, get their notes and such in order before the players arrive.

 

When the the game is being held at a home the Host normally will be the owner of the house the game is taking place at. In these cases, the Host will let everyone know when they can arrive and set expectations on food, beverages, noise and such as well.

 

Well time and place as well as host have been decided. Man can we please get to just playing the game already?

 

gygax

Hold onto your dice, there Mr. Gygax!

We need to cover a few more topics… The big one in fact is next. What game are we going to even run? After all this work finding a place and deciding on how long it will last. It is up to everyone to decide via group discussion what setting we will be adventuring in. That shall be decided next week, in Part 3 of this 5 Part series..

Please let me know if you have any questions or comments. I would love to hear your thoughts on pros and cons of FLGS games versus home games. Any points you feel I missed or disagree with? Let me know. Any points you liked? Let’s get a discussion going and as always thanks for reading.

 

Scott is a true analog gamer doing everything from pen and paper RPG’s to board games and everything in-between. He started out with Advanced D&D 2nd edition at the age of 10. From there he likes all genres and types, from the well known big names to smaller indie print publishers. Scott is Vice-President of The Wrecking Crew

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of the Editor or any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands.

INTERVIEW WITH NEALL RAEMON PRICE: SCION 2nd EDITION

scionorigins

Click the Image to go to the Kickstarter!


Thank you for doing this interview. Those of us here at Keep on The Heathlands are pretty big fans of what Onyx Path Publishing have been putting together and Scion 2nd Edition looks amazing so far.

Neall: Thank you very much for taking the time to write out a few questions and for honoring me with some the interview!

Can you tell us a little bit of your history in the gaming world? What was your first game that you played, and what are you currently playing?

Absolutely. I’ve freelanced for Paizo, Green Ronin, and written fiction for Growling Door Games, but the bulk of my freelance career has been spent with White Wolf and Onyx Path. I worked on Exalted Second Edition, especially the latter half of the game line: I really cut my teeth on Abyssals, Infernals, and Alchemicals. After the second edition ended, I switched over to writing for Mummy: the Curse, Demon: the Descent, Mage: the Awakening Second Edition, and Vampire: the Masquerade.

The first game I ever played was a homebrew game by my long-time friend, after watching games of d6 West End Star Wars and Battletech all summer long at camp. The first actual game I played was Demon: the Fallen. I’d been a fan of White Wolf games ever since picking up Wraith in a second-hand store. That Demon game lasted maybe all of three sessions before the players caused a hurricane to destroy Miami, so we shifted to Exalted and played that for years.

Currently, I’m running a lot of Scion playtests…but I really want to run the Night’s Black AgentsDracula Dossier after my own games come out!

Scion is a game that touches on the mythological cycle, for those that are fans of Campbell we could say it emulates the Hero’s Journey. How does Scion allow for stories that are told using that journey? Would you say that Scion is a universe like our own, but with a closer relationship to illio tempore ( Eliade’s sacred time)? [This second question here is my religion and culture geek side showing]

We acknowledge Campbell as having a hero’s journey, but we avoid The Hero’s Journey totally for a number of reasons. Campbell tended to be a little reductionist, and definitely scanted stories involving women. So our Storyguide sections walk you through the earliest parts of origin myths, in Western, Japanese, and certain African styles (as examples). We tried very hard to detail different variants of a hero’s journey through various cultures and provide heavily detailed insight and guidance for SGs, so players can take their Scions through a story that seems and feels like a true myth (but with more explosions). This also ties into the character’s goals, destinies, and advancement in-game. The basic move is from innocence to experience (Origin to Hero), whether it begins with an error or with the loss of tranquility. Along the way, there are helpers, challenges, conflicts, and returns.

As to your Eliade question, to abuse a quote from my writer Geoffrey McVey, I’d say yes, in that Scion is a universe into which hierophanies irrupt in material form on occasion. (Alternately, “Yes.”) The World is a place where the sacred is immanent and almost tangible.

pantheons

Can you talk about how the Pantheons have changed a bit from 1st edition to 2nd edition?

Pantheons were one of the big things we wanted to fiddle a bit with. They’re no longer purely divine bloodlines, but socio-magical constructs within Fate that are bound to cultures across the World (our setting). Gods may belong to one (or more!) pantheons.

If there are cultural magics wielded by the Gods, and/or if the mythologies have distinct powers their gods frequently use, those go into a Pantheon Signature Purview, or PSP. In First Edition, this was a custom Purview, but in Second Edition they’re far more broad, encompassing a lot of the “magics” wielded by the Gods and by others in that pantheon’s mythos. Ideally, this is under a unifying theme that relates to the pantheons. This is why the Greeks are superior shapeshifters, for example, or why the Irish Gods revolve around having a geas.

Lots of pantheons have specifically-named groupings of three with mythical significance, or sub-pantheons and groupings contained within them. The Theoi up there contain two Triads, the (Greek names ahead) Olympioi, the Halioi, the Khthonioi, and associated sub-groupings. That’s not even mentioning the Dodekatheon, the twelve most powerful and important gods of Olympus. So all of these pantheons have groups that relate to Paths, which players and Storyguides can further flesh out.

We definitely tried to broaden out the pantheons from First Edition. Several pantheons were renamed to reflect their broadened scope. The core list of pantheons includes: Aesir (Norse), Devas (Vedic), Kami (Japanese), Manitou (Algonquian), Netjer (Egyptian, formerly Pesedjet), Orisha (Yoruban), Shen (Chinese, formerly the Celestial Bureaucracy), Teotl (Aztec formerly Atzlanti), Theoi (Greco-Roman, formerly Dodekatheon), and the Tuatha de Dannen (Irish).

I wanted to cover every single pantheon that’d been done in First Edition, and we’ve done so and then some. The Nemetondevos and the Manitou (although that was a pan-Indian pantheon rather than a specifically Anishinaabeg pantheon) were both demi-canonical pantheons done by White Wolf’s French translation company, but they’ll both be in the Companion book that’s been funded already by the Kickstarter. And, of course, a revamped Yazata and an Atlantean Pantheon that’s used as an example of how to make your own fictional pantheons for use in home games.

The Kickstarter is funding 2 books, Origin and Hero. Tell us what the different books provide players, why do I need both of them?

Origin details the Storypath System, the narrative-yet-traditional rules that power the game, along with the “base setting”: the World, where the old religions of pantheism never vanished, where people are rumored to be Scions of divinity, where creatures of Legend are hidden from the mortal eye in plain sight. It’s akin to the wuxia concept of the Rivers and Lakes, where the two worlds of kung-fu and the peasants, nobles, and politics coexist in the same space yet remain very separate. We give you some pretty explicit guidance and some rules modifications for dialing your experience of the World up and down.

Hero details the full rules for Scion characters, but now they’re fully-fledged heroes. Here, we fully introduce the pantheons, and all of the powers, divine weapons , and blessings that Scions can wield. We detail the golden, poisonous vitriol that flows through the veins of Scions once they’ve been Visited and their journey to apotheosis begins. Lastly, Hero’s ST section (Director/Mythguide section, what-have-you) is greatly expanded, detailing different variants of a hero’s journey.

We wanted to do expanded pantheons and greatly expanded rules, but we also wanted to cover lots of elements from First Edition (such as Terra Incognita) properly. Altogether, the combined book would be massive, so we decided to split for a number of reasons. This has a lot of benefits – if your players just want to pick up the system and read about the setting, they can buy Origin instead of buying both books (or they can buy Hero instead of Origin if they want lots of Scion character options!). Additionally, I really want to expand the World of Scion in future supplements, and not necessarily focusing on the Scions themselves. Creatures of Legend like satyrs and Valkyries and kitsune are playable right out of Origin.

trinity

I’m excited for Scion, but I’m also excited for the Trinity Universe (Aberrant is still one of my favorite games). Anything you can tell us about that game?

Absolutely. Ian Watson and John Snead have done a fantastic job of making Aeon and Trinity really exciting and vibrant, and making that continuum exciting to play in no matter what the time period. Ian’s unified the disparate elements of all three prior games and created a modern-day setting (it reminds me a lot of Fringe or Person of Interest) to play in that’s equal parts optimistic and dramatic, making you feel like a big hero in an even bigger world. The most ingenious setting element they’ve solved is the constricting idea of predestination – that the Aberrant War is inevitable, for example – and the way they’ve tied that setting solution into mechanics like super-science and dramatic editing is just fabulous.

Like we had to on Scion, Ian had to make some hard decisions on Trinity, like pulling Daredevils out of Adventure! and putting them in as Talents, a hero type in Continuum core book. From everything I’ve seen of what they’re doing, though, it’s going to be a fabulous game.

We did a review of the Storypath System Preview, but obviously that is not the full system. Tell us a bit about the development of the new system. What elements have you particularly excited?

That’d be an essay and an interview in and of itself! It took nearly three years and several iterations. But I’m definitely excited about how the core system allows players to partially choose the outcome of both positive and negative rolls, how failure in dice rolls translates into bonuses later. And I definitely love the Paths – a system topic we use to replace the old set of Merits and Backgrounds and holistically describe your character in a way that ties them into the setting while still allowing you to bring in personal character details reactively and sometimes retroactively.

One of the core concepts of this blog is supporting inclusivity and diversity in gaming. Can you tell me how you see Scion and Onyx Path supporting those two elements? xochipilli

We try to approach this in both our writing team – by hiring writers of color, writers of various faiths and creeds, writers with differing gender and sexual identities – and in our games, as well.  The other way is through the game itself: the art, for one, but absolutely and especially the content. For example: the Teōtl pantheon in Scion 2e, the Aztecs, are going to include Xochipilli, the Flower Prince: God of beauty, dance, flowers, and patron of gay people and male prostitutes.

For the record, there are Gods (in the game and outside it) without gender, gods with multiple genders, gods who change genders according to how they feel. There are figures in myth who beg to be another gender (and who are occasionally granted that wish). Gods who are men who lust for and sleep with men. Goddesses who lust for and sleep with women. Gods who do both. Gods who are asexual. Gods who impregnate via inclement weather. If there are queer people, there are queer gods.

These myths are thousands of years old. They reflect the societies and the peoples from whence they came. That’s what myths are – they express the story of a people. My team and I are proud to feature every one of them in game.

Is there anything else cool that you’d like to leak/share with Keep On The Heathlands?

What we’ve done with Fate is especially cool. In First Edition, Fate was tied to humanity. Humans were bound to Fate and couldn’t contest the ebb and flow of the connections through their lives, save for some divinely-aided heroism, but humanity itself provided the necessary web for connections to form in the cultural consciousness. In Second Edition, Fate isn’t something that “applies” to a Scion or a god, at least not truly. A Scion’s actions ripple throughout the world, causing people to become bound to her destiny. Those ripples of her actions are Fate at work. These ripples are referred to as Fatebindings, and they’re why Gods refrain from overt action, because doing so shakes up the ordered destiny of the cosmos in a way that begets problems bigger than the one the God was trying to solve in the first place. It’s no longer “mind control” on a mortal.

So, when we looked at Purviews to use with this new conception of Fate, we cannibalized a lot of the old Magic Purview into a new General Purview called Fortune, used by Gods of luck and prophecy. I’ll share the innate power and a Boon right here!

Fortune

The Purview of Fortune exerts its power through blessings and curses, manipulating that which mortals call chance and the Gods know as destiny. It exerts the subtle power of coincidence and synchronicity, contriving events and changing the World. It is not prophecy, but it can tug at the threads of fate to arrange improbable scenarios and enable deeds that defy belief.

Innate Power: You can sense the presence of Fatebindings when you interact with someone. If you later meet the other “half” of a binding that you have already sensed, you can tell the two characters are bound together. You can also sense when an Oracle or Sorcerer (p. XX) manipulates Fate with their Knacks or other powers, identifying them as the one responsible even if the effect cannot normally be perceived.

Fateful Connection

Cost: Spend 1 Legend

Duration: Instant

Subject: One character Fatebound to you

Range: Infinite

Action: Simple

You invoke the Fatebinding of a character tied to you to cause them to appear in the narrative and provide a benefit based on their Fatebinding role without it counting against the usual once per Episode limit (p. XX). Synchronicity arranges for that character to be near enough to arrive rapidly with a completely plausible explanation—maybe they’re visiting their family, or stalking you, or their plane crashed.  If the Storyguide agrees, this can even bring characters into Terra Incognitae and other realms of existence (maybe they tripped through a portal).

Join us in thanking Neall for this great interview by checking out Scion’s Kickstarter 

THIS ONE IS ROOK: HOW GAMING HELPS ME EXPRESS MY IDENTITY

 

The Neonates and Ancilla of Atlanta sat around sharing their life stories. Florence, the young Harpy turned to the Elder Nosferatu in the room.

 

“What about you?” Florence asked the Elder who was roosting in a chair across from the conversation.

 

“This one is Rook.” Said the Nosferatu. An awkward silence followed where Florence expected more, and Rook said nothing else. The conversation resumed between the others shortly after, leaving Rook to observe.

In the above scenario within By Night Studio’s Vampire: the Masquerade, I play Rook. Rook is a genderless Nosferatu Elder, and one of the most challenging yet rewarding characters I have ever played. Almost everything about Rook is alien to my personal life, with one key exception.

 

While writing this article on my laptop I have my phone and my tablet next to me and I have music playing from my gaming console on my TV; to say I am connected to my technology is an understatement. I am only 26 years old, though my birthday is this month, so I’m basically 27. As a feminist, I believe in equal rights for everyone regardless of identity.. I am also genderfluid.

 

Rook, on the other hand, has a flaw called Archaic. If a character has this flaw, any technology less than 100 years old is foreign to them, and they cannot use it. Rook is over a thousand years old, so I am challenged to think far beyond my own scope in terms of taking actions and reactions. Rook very firmly has distaste for young vampires, with the stereotypical negative attitude that is associated with older people’s attitude toward teenagers. Rook is also genderless, as when Nosferatu are turned into vampires they are disfigured, and Rook’s disfigurement made determining Rook’s physical sex impossible, so Rook’s gender slowly left them.

 

Compared to the other character I play in the Underground Theater organization, Rook is completely different than I am. The other character I play, Jacquelyn, is much more an extension of myself. Dressing as Rook takes just as much time as Jacquelyn, despite the simple costume, partly due to all the face makeup that I put on to provide a ‘corpse-like’ appearance. I like to jokingly refer to myself as Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars when I’m putting the makeup on, due to the similar appearance.

 

I am Rook on the left, and Jacquelyn on the right.

I am Rook on the left, and Jacquelyn on the right.

 

Rook’s costuming is very simple, as you can see. I only wear a large black cloak to gatherings, and carry only one accessory: a red rosary. If I have to describe them in their Obfuscated Mask it is always something very simple and timeless, and still an androgynous/agendered appearance, and the rosary is still present. I also pose myself in certain ways to play down my feminine bodied curves. My bust line is large and binding would be a bit unsafe for me, so I have to use other methods to pull off a genderless appearance. I’ll push my shoulders forward, hunch, and keep my arms out in front of me to keep the cloak from hanging off of my bust line, giving me no clearly gendered appearance one way or the other. Catching myself in the mirror and not seeing the curvy lines of my own body or my normal skin tone really helps me to stay in character as Rook.

 

There are small parts of Rook that are extensions of myself. Rook is a bit protective of their family and those they consider family, and I am as well. I have stuck up for friends against all sorts of people who would bully them for various aspects. I will very typically make myself the voice who isn’t afraid to speak up. I will call people on negative behaviors, bad attitudes, creepy behavior, and the like because much of the time those disparaged people don’t feel they can speak up. I take this attitude into Rook by having them stick to their guns when it comes to the people they would defend, even to the detriment of their reputations. In VtM, having a Catiff offspring is seen as a failing of your character, and mine embraces (pardon the pun) the fact with pride. Rook has an openly acknowledged Catiff grandchilde and doesn’t really care how other people feel about it.

 

My favorite vampire meme

My favorite vampire meme

 

As I mentioned above, Rook is genderless. This is slightly different than being genderfluid, but this article isn’t about the differences between the two. The short version is that genderless is no gender at all, while genderfluid moves between various genders. Having Rook express a gender identity close to my own internal one in such an external method is super empowering for me. My body makes it difficult to express anything through presentation other than female, so having a chance to embody a non-female character is awesome.

 

A lot of people do misgender Rook as a female, due to my own body and their knowledge that I present as female, but I usually just handle it in character with in character language. I’m still waiting on the day when someone decides they have to hit on me in-character as Rook. I have an image saved on my phone for this exact purpose, because my character will have no qualms about flashing the whole gathering in character and pausing game a moment to show them all exactly what is going on underneath the robe.

 

The aformentioned picture. Sexy!

The aformentioned picture. Sexy!

 

I have had antagonistic characters purposefully misgender Rook, and I have had supportive characters ask Rook if they would prefer the ‘zir’ set of pronouns. Being able to have these experiences in a safe environment was very helpful for me should I have these experiences out on the real world, because I already know what my reaction would be. I haven’t had anyone be purposefully mean to me out of character about being genderfluid; due to my use of female pronouns with a female body most people likely don’t even realize I am genderfluid. I live in the South, so being super ‘out’ about being Genderfluid is pretty hard due to a lot of misplaced hatred.

 

I first started to experiment with my own gender through gaming. I played a lot of tabletop before I started LARPing. When I got to the Deadlands: Weird West setting at first, I played a saloon girl who ran away with a cowboy, a pretty typical role for a female character in a Western. After that character was finished, I moved on and started playing male characters in the setting, because of how things were for women in that time period. I found playing the male characters more freeing, more in tune with how I would want to be able to live in that time period. At first my male characters were caricatures of other characters from fiction. I played a Huckster based off of Gambit/every smooth talking gambler ever, and I played a doctor based off of House.

 

After time whenever I wanted to play a male character in other settings they quit being as two dimensional and started being fleshed out. To be fair almost all of my characters got more well rounded as I grew up and matured, but I quit looking at the male characters as something wholly different than my own psyche, just different permutations and variations on personality traits I as a person had. Having the safe space of gaming to experiment with these thoughts is an amazing tool.

 

For me gaming is as much a tool as anything else. To me, entertainment is what happens when you watch something you’re not participating in. I am entertained when I watch a video online, but with gaming I am enriched. I regularly describe the best gaming sessions as ones where I felt awful. I discovered another character’s wife changed to a wall, having her venom enhanced blood siphoned from her. I willingly went along with an antagonist to be tied up and flayed alive. Those two events were polarizing, and the best game sessions I had as that character. Were they ‘fun’ in the traditional sense? No, but they were so engaging and enriching that I will never forget them.

 

 

With Pride week in Chattanooga just having finished up, October being LGBTQ* History Month, and National Coming Out Day coming up in a week on the 11th, this time of year often makes me think of how far we’ve come as far as LGBTQ* issues and gaming. Most games wouldn’t let someone portray an LGBTQ* concept in an offensive way, or let players harm or make uncomfortable others due to their LGBTQ* status. If I wanted to I could make a male character in any of the games that I play in regularly and it would be received well and everyone would try their best to use character-appropriate pronouns and language. If I wanted my local gamers to use different pronouns with me I wouldn’t have to worry about it not being received well. I know not every gamer has that comfort and I know it can be hard to find in some places, but the fact that this is more and more the norm than the exception gives me hope for the future.

 

Every time I miss a game (and Amber’s amazing zucchini)  I am sad I will not be able to express myself in an accepting environment, and enjoy the freedom that comes with it. Even putting on the costume and makeup to take pictures for this article was enjoyable, despite the face scrubbing I have to endure afterwards and the warmth of wearing the robe during the day. Playing Rook has given me the freedom to experiment with my own gender expression, and that has been amazingly refreshing.

Anna is an avid LARPer, and on weekend when she isn’t being a vampire she treks out to the woods to beat up her friends with assorted plumbing supplies and birdseed. Outside of LARP Anna is a feminist and part of the LGBTQ* community, and is the proud owner of two loving cats, and another that’s kind of mean but loves her anyway (probably). She can be found on Twitter at https://twitter.com/squeenoodles

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of the Editor or any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands.